A California lawmaker trying to weaken a landmark data privacy law is married to a top executive at Amazon's Ring home surveillance company, according to a review of state ethics documents conducted by Politico.
Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin's husband, Jon Irwin, is chief operating officer for Santa Monica-based Ring, Inc., a home security and video doorbell startup that Amazon acquired last year for about $1 billion, state ethics disclosures show.
Like other companies that collect vast amounts of consumer data, Ring — and its parent company, Amazon — has a financial stake in the details of California's groundbreaking data-privacy law. Industry groups, including those representing Amazon, have been scrambling to change the law before it takes effect Jan. 1. -Politico
The California Consumer Privacy Act (AB 873) will give Californians the right to formally request that companies disclose personal data collected about them, ask them not to sell it, and instruct them to delete it. The legislation - the first of its kind in the country - will likely set the precedent for US data privacy alongside new EU regulations.
One of the proposals that Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) carried this year was blasted by consumer-privacy groups as an attempt to gut the law by exempting more kinds of data from the new requirements. In an early version of the bill, the lawmaker also proposed striking from the act a provision requiring companies to disclose or delete data associated with "households" upon request, a change likely to have eased the regulatory burden on smart-device companies like Ring. -Politico
"We can talk about this later," Jacqui Irwin told Politico - deflecting when asked about the potential conflict outside her office last week, adding "It's a little bit offensive there."
It should be noted that the third-term Assemblywoman has disclosed her husband's employment on her publicly available statements of economic interest, while the state's Fair Political Practices Commission told Politico that it had not received or investigated any conflict-of-interest complaints about Irwin.
Irwin, meanwhile, told Politico that questioning herr role in data-privacy legislation to be offensive in light of her professional background as the co-chair of a national cybersecurity task force.
In a statement sent to POLITICO, Irwin highlighted her background and stressed that her aim since the law was hastily passed last year has been to find "reasonable compromise."
"My role in the privacy debate in the Legislature is focused on bringing people together and solving the practical issues posed to us as policy makers and is independent of any job or role my husband may have," she said. "My education and professional background as a systems engineer provides me distinct qualifications in the Legislature to weigh in on matters related to technology." -Politico
That said, "Voting records show that Irwin has participated in matters that would appear to affect her spouse's firm or parent company," according to Politico, which notes that she "voted on the Assembly floor in favor of a proposal from Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) aimed at regulating Amazon's dealings with California vendors. (Amazon has dropped its opposition to the proposal.)," and was "one of just six lawmakers out of 80 to vote against the so-called Alexa bill by Republican Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) that would have prohibited smart speaker devices installed in homes, such as Amazon's Alexa, to retain or sell recorded conversations without a customer's consent, among other restrictions. Cunningham pulled that bill from a Senate committee and plans to move it again next year."
According to the report, Irwin has been a key player in negotiations over the California Consumer Privacy Act - arguing that certain types of data, such as store security-camera footage, is an example of information which would be too burdensome and risky for businesses to be required to include in consumer data-deletion requests.
The act currently has a broad definition of "personal information," which includes names, addresses, geolocation information, device IDs and biometric data. As Politico notes, "Privacy experts say that would include feeds from Ring's video doorbells, some of which are being shared with law enforcement — with consumer consent — in hundreds of communities nationwide."
"Unquestionably when you walk up to that Ring device, it’s capturing personal information," said Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Lee Tien. "This is why a company like Ring would be concerned about the obligations imposed on them by CCPA."
The act will undoubtedly raise costs and reduce revenues for major companies which collect, analyze and sell customer information for the purposes of targeted advertising. In fact, Amazon noted in a SEC filing earlier this year that "government regulation is evolving," and that certain changes could slow growth and increase costs.
In order to avoid this, trade groups representing tech companies - including Amazon - have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for proposed language, exemptions and tweaks to AB 873.
Besides being represented by TechNet and the Internet Association, Amazon alone spent $186,000 on lobbying the state Capitol in the first half of the year, state records show. The company listed AB 873 and AB 1395 among the bills it influenced.
"Look, if your spouse has a financial interest in a company and you are voting on or are proposing legislation that would affect that company, I think there is an enormously good argument to be made that it could be a conflict of interest under the Political Reform Act," said Loyola Law School ethics and campaign-finance expert, Jessica Levinson.
"It’s both sides that give me pause," she added, saying of Irwin and her husband: "It’s that she’s so seemingly aggressive on the issue in a way that would benefit his company, and he is so high up in the company."